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Lipstick, the Recession and Evolutionary Psychology
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In 2008, when many companies reported record declines in sales amidst a global economic recession, L’Oréal, one of the world’s largest cosmetic manufacturers, was somehow immune to the downturn. In fact, L’Oréal enjoyed a sales growth of 5.3% that year—why? Why was L’Oréal the apparent beneficiary of a worldwide economic crisis?

Dating back to the Great Depression, times of recession have consistently yielded anomalous gains for the beauty products industry, even while consumers rein in spending on household goods and recreational products. Journalists have dubbed this curiosity the “lipstick effect.” I recently sought to test the lipstick effect in a series of studies, the results of which were published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Our findings confirmed that the lipstick effect is not only real, but deeply rooted in women’s mating psychology.

While economic recessions are a recent development in human history, fluctuations in prosperity and resource availability are not. Human ancestors regularly went through cycles of abundance and famine, each of which favorsdifferent reproductive strategies. While periods of abundance favor strategies associated with postponing reproduction in favor of one’s own development (e.g., by pursuing an education), periods of scarcity favor more immediate reproduction. The latter strategy is more successful during times of resource scarcity because it decreases the likelihood that one will perish before having the chance to reproduce.

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  1. Dennis D. Embry says:

    This is effect is almost certainly not limited to college-age women. My colleagues do considerable work in Title I schools in the United States. For our international readers, Title I schools have high poverty rates and are often in poor and violent neighborhoods.

    In Title I neighborhood schools, one tends to see girls with earlier puberty. The administrators and teachers struggle greatly with girls using very sensual clothes, make up, etc. I think this is a study waiting to happen and show the generality among early adolescence. Hey, this could be a great masters’ paper for all the grad students in EVOS